Dispatch #10: Where You Find It
Baseball season is here, and sinkhole has drafted contributor Andrew Forbes to accompany our readers through it. All season long, Forbes will be following the exploits of Seattle Mariners legend Ichiro Suzuki, and using Ichiro as a lens through which to view the game, both in the US and Japan, its history, and the culture surrounding it.
What I have learned in my life is relatively meager, but among that smattering of trivia and useless arcana lies this serviceable maxim: you take comfort where you find it. I must confess, though, that I have of late found myself generally beyond the comforts of even my most reliable consolations, namely baseball, music, and literature. Without betraying the confidence of those involved, I’ll just say that health problems have settled on a family member, and made everything else in life seem less urgent than it otherwise normally would. I have worn grooves in the highway between my new home and my old one, that road rutted and dotted with small towns named after things people have pulled from the ground – Sulfide, Actinolite, Deloro. There, at the other end of the highway, in the old place, we followed family tradition and avoided talking about those things which were most important, and which most required our attention and our talk, catching up instead on the mundane stuff, and thereafter allowing a stalwart silence to settle over us. Frequently, in such moments, we reached for baseball to fill the silence between us, as we long have, and in that way did we watch the 2018 regular season end, and the postseason begin.
The Seattle Mariners failed to qualify for the playoffs, of course, for the sixteenth season running – still the longest such stretch of futility in North American professional sports. Ichiro, if he were active, would be the only current Mariner to have played on that last playoff team, in 2001. He’s not active, or wasn’t on the last day of the season, and hadn’t been since May 3rd, but he’s still a link to that team, and that time. A reassuring link, for me, but a weakening one.
Not yet broken, though: Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto indicated at season’s end that Ichiro will be on the roster when the team heads to Japan in March to play a pair of games against Oakland. Those will, in all likelihood, be the last games Ichiro plays in a Major League uniform, and seeing them will require setting an alarm and brewing several pots of coffee, but the chance to watch him play one more time is a small thing that’ll provide me with some incentive to make it through the fast-approaching winter.
In the meantime, two recent instances of comfort originated in a baseball stadium – Yankee Stadium, of all places. In game 4 of the American League Division Series between the Red Sox and the Yanks, in the bottom of the ninth, with pinstriped runners at first and second, one out, and Luke Voit at bat, the probing cameras scanned the crowd and zeroed in on a woman who had closed her eyes and clasped her hands in prayer. Voit walked to load the bases, then Boston closer Craig Kimbrel grazed Neil Walker’s foot with a breaking ball that broke too far, and the Yanks cashed a run. Kimbrel got the next hitter, Gary Sanchez, to wave at some high cheese before flying out to deep left for the second out, though Didi Gregorius did tag up and score on the play to bring New York within a run. Then rookie Gleyber Torres grounded out – the replay confirmed it – and the woman’s prayers were dashed. But for a time her team had given her hope, and that, after all, is what she’d paid to witness. And her hope granted me some, however fleeting and secondhand, and however divergent our allegiances.
A night earlier, though, in the third game of the same series, I found not only comfort, but the answer to a question which is sometimes posed to me, and which I sometimes ask myself: why invest so much in baseball? The hours spent, the frustration, the money, the impracticality of it all.
It was after all only a moment, and a brief but a beautiful one. This is what happened: already up 3-0, the Red Sox scored seven runs in the top of the 4th. In the bottom of the inning, suddenly down 10-0, the Yankees sent Giancarlo Stanton to the plate. Stanton is a large, muscled man from California, who is paid a lot of money to play baseball. Nathan Eovaldi, the Boston pitcher, threw a ball very hard toward Stanton, who waved his lathe-turned hunk of maple wood at it, and met the ball in the air with that stick, which sent the ball up through the middle of the diamond-shaped playing field, between other men wearing polyester suits, and the ball struck the grass and rolled away while Stanton ran up a line to a square pillow, and he stopped there, and people applauded. They were happy. A man wearing their favorite logo on his head and chest had accomplished a little thing, and his teammates would continue working toward a larger thing, though the largest good thing possible in their game was by then very unlikely. But they were happy, because there was a glint of hope. And it occurred to me then, as it often does, while I watched all this transpire on a small digital screen: what a strange and lovely and human thing, this game.
My initial intent with these columns was to investigate all the fascinating nooks and back pages of my favorite ballplayer, Ichiro Suzuki: his life, his training regimen, those long-ago players whose accomplishments he honored, even as he superseded them. My sense now, nearly seven months later, is that I have largely failed at that stated goal. There’re a lot of entries left on my list of topics: the humidor in which he stores his bats; George Sisler, the man whose single-season record for base hits Ichiro bested in 2004; Ichiro’s admiration for, and relationship with, Ken Griffey, Jr.; the debate over whether Pete Rose or Ichiro is the rightful Hit King; and so on. But I didn’t get to all that. Life impinged, as it’s doing now, or my focus wavered, or perhaps I just expected too much of myself at the outset. But I am trying to follow the very advice I recently gave that ailing family member: you have to forgive yourself. I’m trying, but mostly failing. It is the kind of thing, I am beginning to suspect, which comes only with a great deal of practice.
header: images by keith allison / remixed by eric fershtman